The Fallacy Behind ‘Facebook Fatigue’

by Mikal E. Belicove

The Fallacy Behind Facebook Fatigue

You can call it “Facebook Apathy” or “Facebook Funk,” but “Facebook Fatigue” it isn’t.

The term “Facebook Fatigue” has wriggled its way into the business lexicon — most recently, in a pair of reports claiming there is flagging support for social media sites among users. The notion is that people are bored with Facebook and social networking in general or are finding other places to spend their social time online.

Although some people are in fact tired of Facebook and social networking in general or they’re finding other places to spend their social time online, the majority of people are holding tight. Instead of proving Facebook’s demise, the reports fail to key in on the most critical data: The act of “Liking” branded business pages is on the rise, and more people — not less — are using Facebook than when they first signed up.

In a recent Gartner survey, which polled 6,300 people aged 13 to 74 about their social media usage, twenty-four percent said they are using their favorite social media utility or platform less than when they first signed up. However, another 37 percent said they are using it more.

Separately, a Global Web Index report notes a decline in consumers who are using social media to find new contacts, join a member-managed group or send messages to their friends. From July 2009 to July 2010, Global Web Index says “there has been a large level of decline in contribution and active participation in Facebook” — citing disinterest primarily among the young and college-educated who were the original adopters of Facebook.

OK, a few observations on my part. First, I would hardly characterize the 24 percent of consumers saying they use social media sites less than before as a “fatigue” — certainly not when 37 percent of those surveyed say they use it more. And I see no “fatigue” inference just because fewer people use these sites for messaging, joining groups or finding friends. As I pointed out last week, email is still the king of messaging, and the “finding friends” ticker is probably down because most of us have already found our friends. I mean I have 804 registered Facebook friends.

Turning to the Global Web Index report — and this is important for businesses — is the revelation that joining a branded group (liking a Facebook Business page, for example) is actually on the rise, with charts indicating a 5 to 10 percent increase in such numbers. Also on the rise are the uploading of photos and videos to personal profiles.

But more to the point, a quick look at eMarketer’s Worldwide Social Network Ad Spending: 2011 Outlook shows that Facebook advertisers will spend $4.05 billion this year and another $5.74 billion next year. The only “fatigue” I see here is maybe counting up the proceeds. So before business owners begin fleeing Facebook and other social media sites over rumors of “fatigue,” consider this: Businesses that embrace social media in their marketing mix will continue to find great results, while those that choose to use fatigue as an excuse not to participate will only stunt their own growth.

Only You Can Prevent Cringe-Worthy Customer Service

by Carol Tice | 4

Only You Can Prevent Cringe-Worthy Customer Service

There’s never been a worse time to fail at customer service.

Where once only a few of your wronged customers’ friends and neighbors might have heard about how you neglected to make that customer happy, now your customer-service blunder can go viral and be discussed by thousands or even millions of consumers. Like the time United Airlines lost a musician’s precious guitar — and he made a YouTube video about it.

Bad customer service is an all-too-common way to lose a customer for good. A recent Consumer Reports survey found 64 percent of customers walked out of a store in the past year due to bad service.

By the same token, good service can earn you customer loyalty — an American Express Global Customer Service Barometer survey found 70 percent of consumers said they’d spend 13 percent more with businesses that provide great service. Three out of five customers said they’d switch to a new brand or company if it offered superior service.

The barometer report also found small businesses have the edge here — 81 percent of consumers in the survey said they believe small businesses provide better customer service. On the flip side, that means the expectations for small businesses are higher and it may be easier to flub it.

How can you prevent cringe-worthy customer service? Here is a list of must-dos:

  • Answer the phone. “Can’t get a human on the phone” was the biggest customer-service flub cited in the Consumer Reports survey. So kill the robots and make sure the phone gets picked up by a real person, within a couple of rings.
  • Reduce voicemail steps. Banks, are you listening?
  • Teach politeness. Rude salespeople also topped the consumer complaint list.
  • Cut the pushiness. The hard-sell is dead, dead, dead. These days the only thing it’s good for is driving people away.
  • Eliminate red tape. Many companies get bogged down in elaborate policies and procedures, leaving employees’ hands tied when it comes to fixing problems on the fly. Empower workers to solve problems using your guidelines.
  • Surprise and delight. Do something unexpectedly nice for a customer — send a thank-you note or a small extra gift in a mailed package.
  • Use social media. Big companies such as Comcast are winning over customers by setting up a Twitter channel where they can report problems and get a rapid response. At the very least, do a scan once a day to make sure nobody is venting to the Twitterverse about what you did wrong.

Tips For Planning an Exit from Your Small Business

by Carol Tice

Tips For Planning an Exit from Your Small Business

Sick of fighting for business in the down economy? For some business owners, hard times may force you to wonder whether it’s time to cash in and move on — or at least, sell a stake to someone who might eventually buy you out.

If you’re thinking about leaving your business behind, some careful planning up front can make it a smooth transition that ensures your company thrives after you’re gone. Here are five tips on how to make a graceful exit from Suzanne Bates, executive coach and author of the upcoming book Discover Your CEO Brand: Secrets to Embracing and Maximizing Your Unique Value as a Leader:

  1. Work on a succession plan. What do you want to happen after you leave? Write up a plan that spells out your wishes. If you’re considering passing on or selling the business to a family member or employee, notify them of your intentions. Ensure that your plan answers questions about who will be in charge, how much of a stake they will acquire and at what cost. It should also offer a timeline for the transfer of power.
  2. Groom a successor. The world of family business is full of sad stories about owners who suddenly decide to retire and drop the business into the lap of a brother or daughter with little training or notice. Start teaching your heir apparent about the business’s operations and finances now, and assume it may take many months or even a year or two to pass on all the knowledge. Notice their weak points and either train or hire professionals to help. If they have poor customer-service skills, for instance, you want to fix that before you hand off the baton.
  3. Create a great communicator. Your successor needs top-of-the-line communication skills to influence clients, vendors, employees and others. If you don’t build this skill, Bates says, it’s like the “substitute-teacher” phenomenon: the kids will act up, not listen and accomplish little until either the sub builds confidence, or the “permanent teacher” — you — return to clean up the mess.
  4. Show your faith. If you don’t instill confidence in the proposed successor and demonstrate to workers that you trust this person to take over and keep the business growing, you’re sowing the seeds of future problems. Make sure everyone knows who your choice is and that you’re excited about how this new leader will approach the business.
  5. Let them be who they are. Your leader should not try to mimic your personal style or your management style. The new leader needs his or her own vision and approach. Leaders with their own strong brand will be better able to succeed as they take over the top role.

My tip: Think of letting go in stages, if possible. Even if you’re selling to an outsider, you may want to negotiate for a transitional consulting/training period where you’re still on board.

One Way to Get a Product into Big Chains

by Carol Tice

How Entrepreneurs Can Get Their Products into Big Chains

It’s the dream of many inventors to get a big retail chain to carry their product. This summer, there’s a unique opportunity to get your ideas in front of several major national retailers — but it’ll cost you.

A “Made in America” contest is being held through Aug. 29 by consumer-product development company Edison Nation. The organization — which spun out of the award-winning PBS-TV show Everyday Edisons — has a $25 million Innovation Fund that invests in new ideas.

For $25, you can send in your product idea. Why might you want to consider this? Contest partners include Bed Bath & Beyond and PepBoys, which are both on the lookout for new products out of the contest they could add to their shelves.

As you may have guessed from the name, the purpose of the competition is to stimulate more U.S.-based manufacturing. If your product is chosen a winner, the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership helps you find an appropriate American facility in which to make your product.

Your business also gets a $2,500 advance against future royalties. Here may be the dark side of this contest — Edison Nation takes a 50-50 split of royalties on products they help develop. That’s a big chunk of future revenue to give up, so consider carefully if this opportunity is right for you.

Made in America is one of many contests Edison has running. Other active product searches are sponsored by Irwin Tools and As Seen on TV, which is looking for the next hit infomercial-type product — if you think you have the next Hooked on Phonics or Snuggie, check it out. Other current contests are for product categories including pets, mobile apps, and medical products.

But that 50-50 royalty split seems to be standard with all Edison’s contests. The contests offer a strong opportunity to get your product in front of a major retailer — but be ready to split the future income that might come from your brainstorm.

Business Credit Cards Kick Up Rewards

by Diana Ransom

Business Credit Cards Kick Up Rewards

Using business credit cards isn’t just a good way to keep your personal and your business finances separate, it might also be extra rewarding.

As the market for consumer credit heats up, and zero percent teaser rates have returned, issuers are stepping up their game for small business cardholders as well. Credit card issuers are taking more of a “carrot” approach to enticing new cardholders — offering enhanced rewards and introductory offers.

American Express today announced its new Business Gold Rewards Card, a charge card that offers two rewards points for online advertising, gas and shipping spending up to $100,000 per calendar year per category. The card, which is expected to launch on Monday, also offers three points on airfare purchases and waives the $175 annual fee for the first year. Previous iterations of the card offered just one point per dollar spent. In June, AmEx started allowing users to redeem their Membership Rewards points toward the purchase advertisements on Facebook.

Just yesterday, Capital One launched a small business card that offers 2 percent cash back on every purchase. The card, which is called Business No Hassle Cash Premier, has a 13.9 percent variable annual percentage rate and a $59 fee that’s waived in the first year. Although there’s no cap on the amount of amount of rewards you can earn on purchases, note that to receive cash back more frequently than once a year, you need to set up a redemption schedule. And though the rewards never expire, if you close your account, your accrued rewards will vanish.

Capital One also launched an interest-bearing small-business card called Clear Interest Business Checking in July. That card offers one year of interest at varying levels depending on where a business is based.

“What we’ve had is a freeing up of credit in terms of limits and account access,” says Curtis Arnold, the founder of credit education web site CardRatings.com. “There are dark clouds on the horizon, but if I’m looking from a small business owner’s standpoint, I would jump at the opportunity to apply for a business card, provided the offer is good and the interest rate is average.”

But business owners should still be skeptical of these cards. For months, small-business and consumer advocates have been angling for business cardholders to receive the same protections that consumers receive under last year’s landmark credit card law. Though, their efforts haven’t yet panned out. The concern is that business cardholders who don’t get these protections might fall victim to predatory credit offers, hiking rates on past purchases, shifting payment dates or charging over-limit fees.

Shortly after the law passed, a number of banks including Bank of America, Capital One and Chase passed along select consumer protections to their business cardholders. Those moves were seen as efforts to stave off a large scale defection from business cards to consumer cards. Although consumer advocates say that consumer cards are still the better of the two credit genres because there’s no way to guarantee that banks won’t simply change their business card policies down the road.

Tips For Planning an Exit from Your Small Business

by Carol Tice

Tips For Planning an Exit from Your Small Business

Sick of fighting for business in the down economy? For some business owners, hard times may force you to wonder whether it’s time to cash in and move on — or at least, sell a stake to someone who might eventually buy you out.

If you’re thinking about leaving your business behind, some careful planning up front can make it a smooth transition that ensures your company thrives after you’re gone. Here are five tips on how to make a graceful exit from Suzanne Bates, executive coach and author of the upcoming book Discover Your CEO Brand: Secrets to Embracing and Maximizing Your Unique Value as a Leader:

  1. Work on a succession plan. What do you want to happen after you leave? Write up a plan that spells out your wishes. If you’re considering passing on or selling the business to a family member or employee, notify them of your intentions. Ensure that your plan answers questions about who will be in charge, how much of a stake they will acquire and at what cost. It should also offer a timeline for the transfer of power.
  2. Groom a successor. The world of family business is full of sad stories about owners who suddenly decide to retire and drop the business into the lap of a brother or daughter with little training or notice. Start teaching your heir apparent about the business’s operations and finances now, and assume it may take many months or even a year or two to pass on all the knowledge. Notice their weak points and either train or hire professionals to help. If they have poor customer-service skills, for instance, you want to fix that before you hand off the baton.
  3. Create a great communicator. Your successor needs top-of-the-line communication skills to influence clients, vendors, employees and others. If you don’t build this skill, Bates says, it’s like the “substitute-teacher” phenomenon: the kids will act up, not listen and accomplish little until either the sub builds confidence, or the “permanent teacher” — you — return to clean up the mess.
  4. Show your faith. If you don’t instill confidence in the proposed successor and demonstrate to workers that you trust this person to take over and keep the business growing, you’re sowing the seeds of future problems. Make sure everyone knows who your choice is and that you’re excited about how this new leader will approach the business.
  5. Let them be who they are. Your leader should not try to mimic your personal style or your management style. The new leader needs his or her own vision and approach. Leaders with their own strong brand will be better able to succeed as they take over the top role.

My tip: Think of letting go in stages, if possible. Even if you’re selling to an outsider, you may want to negotiate for a transitional consulting/training period where you’re still on board.

BlackBerry Management Center: Reining in Smartphone Chaos

by Jonathan Blum

BlackBerry Management Center: Reining in Smartphone Chaos

If smartphones are a small-business boon, they’re also a potential liability.

Not only do businesses who offer them to employees have to keep track of who is using what device, they’re also loaded with information you don’t want “just anyone” to have access to. (If you’ve ever had to replace a lost or stolen company smartphone, you know what a hassle it can be.)

The Waterloo, Ont.-based smartphone giant Research in Motion recently debuted its new BlackBerry Management Center — basically a do-it-yourself tool for managing three to 100 BlackBerry devices. It’s free, which makes it an appealing choice for companies that can’t afford expensive IT services to handle their growing arsenal of smartphones.

It’s also one more reason RIM hopes businesses will continue to use its products. Google’s recent blockbuster buy-out of Motorola Mobility means these business oriented technologies are more important to the struggling smartphone maker than ever before.

Here’s a first look:

What it is: BlackBerry Management Center lets you manage your business’s BlackBerry devices from anywhere using an online Web application. You can manage a number of things through the service like setting up email, contacts and calendars for each of your company phones. If a phone gets lost, you can lock it and display a message telling whoever finds the phone how it can be returned. Worst case scenario: you can use BlackBerry Management Center to wipe the data from a lost or stolen phone, including its microSD card. You can also restore the settings and content from a lost or broken phone onto a new phone.

What you might like: Managing user phones from the Web application is as easy as promised, although you’re going to have to do some legwork to sync company devices with your BlackBerry Management Center account. The hard part mostly boils down to retrieving several ID numbers attached to your various BlackBerry devices as well as making sure apps like BlackBerry Protect and email are properly configured on each device. Once that’s done, using the service is pretty much a matter of navigating a few simple menus that display your options for each smartphone.

Another useful feature: Employees who use their personal Blackberry devices in your business can add them to the service. In that case, users can determine how much control BlackBerry Management Center has over their device.

What you might not like: The mobile work crowd is diverse. And if they’re not all using BlackBerrys, they’re not all controlled by this product. Which absolutely limits how much order the Management Center will bring to the mobile chaos in your shop.

What to do: If your shop has a bring-your-own-gadget-to-work culture, Management Center is not for you. It simply does not support a broad enough array of devices to make it worth the hassle. But if your business has even a couple of BlackBerry devices in the mix, this service could provide some peace of mind.

Do’s and Don’ts of Using Social Media to Screen New Hires

by Mikal E. Belicove

Dos and Donts of Using Social Media to Screen New Hires

Using social media to find new employees is one thing, but making a prospect fork over their Facebook credentials as part of a background check is something else entirely.

More than one half of employers use social media sites to recruit potential candidates, up from just over a third in 2008, according to a June poll from the Society for Human Resource Management.

More and more these days, however, employers are taking the practice one step further by asking applicants for their Facebook logins as part of the screening process. As recently as two years ago, the city of Bozeman, Mont., required job applicants to supply username and password information for their social media-related accounts. In this instance, public outrage quickly curtailed that policy.

While it’s not illegal to ask job applicants for access to their password-protected accounts — the day will come, I suspect, when a jobseeker sues a prospective employer for violating the Stored Communications Act. That law limits the compelled disclosure of stored wire and electronic communications and transactional records held by Internet-related service providers such as Facebook and Google.

If you’re not already cringing in your chair or your company is considering the use of social media when vetting job applicants, here are do’s and don’ts to be aware of:

  1. Do have someone other than the ultimate decision-maker conduct the background check, says Eric B. Myers, a partner in the Labor and Employment Group at Dilworth Paxson, LLP, and the author of The Employer Handbook Blog. He points out that if someone other than the hiring manager does the background check, the company may be able to insulate itself against claims of discrimination. Myers also suggests that if, for instance, a Facebook photo shows the applicant smoking marijuana, the background checker could mark “no” on a non-specific checklist that asks, “uses good judgment,” as doing so is less specific than jotting down “the applicant smokes dope,” which may in fact not even turn out to be true.
  2. Do let applicants know that you’re going to be checking their social-media profiles — and it doesn’t hurt to mention it in your advertisement for the job opening.
  3. Do inform applicants if a third party will be conducting the background check. The Fair Credit Report Act requires applicants to signoff, regardless of whether a password or username is needed to access your profile, if a third party conducts the check. Fail to disclose to the applicant that someone other than an employee at your own firm is conducting the background check, and you open yourself up to a lawsuit, Myers points out.
  4. Don’t compel a job applicant to break a website’s terms or conditions of use. Many social-media utilities and websites prohibit their users from sharing login information with third parties. Do this and you and the applicant could face a lawsuit from Facebook and be found by federal authorities to be in violation of the Stored Communications Act.
  5. Don’t rely on your company’s social-media policy when it comes to job applicants because applicants aren’t covered by the same policies as employees.
  6. Don’t forget to check with your company’s legal counsel before instituting a new hiring practice connected to social media. This remains a very fluid area with new rules and interpretations occurring at a rapid pace.

Facebook Posting Techniques that Really Work

by Mikal E. Belicove

Facebook Posting Techniques that Really Work

There’s a fine line between a scientific approach to marketing on Facebook and a haphazard shotgun approach. For those of you who prefer not to “point and shoot,” a new study from a San Francisco-based social media strategy firm offers an in-depth analysis of the top 20,000 Facebook Pages and up to a quarter million posts in an effort to determine the most useful posting techniques.

In the just-released report called Engagement and Interaction: A Scientific Approach to Facebook Marketing (link opens a PDF file), Momentus Media. provides answers to the seven most frequently asked questions by Facebook page administrators:

  1. When’s the best time to post? While weekends and off-peak hours from 2pm to 5am are the times when page admins are least likely to add a new post, those are the posts that receive the highest interaction rates. Thursdays, on the other hand, shoulder the highest number of postings during the week and the lowest interaction rate. And since a high level of postings results in a lower interaction rate from users, it only stands to reason that posting in off-peak hours means you’ll gain more interaction from fans.
  2. How many times should I post per day? You’d think too many posts would offend your followers but the report suggests frequent posting increases interaction. As you might suspect, fewer posts reduce the chances users will see them. And while unsubscribe rates go up after three posts per day, they level off at higher frequencies. The secret is to find that balance between optimizing interaction and managing unsubscribes, which is going to be different for every business.
  3. What type of content elicits the most interaction? By far, photos generate the highest interaction rate for the six varieties of content, with status updates ranking No. 2. Others — in descending order — include video, music and links. The fact that links are at the bottom is interesting, considering they are posted the most often. Photos rank at the top because they’re visual, easy to digest and they elicit emotion.
  4. Should I ask fans to Like or Comment on my posts? Absolutely. Just by taking advantage of a “Like” call to action boosts your interaction rate by 216 percent. Momentus Media analyzed 49,266 Page posts, comparing interaction rates for posts with “Like” and “Comment” calls to action and those without. And while only 1.3 percent of status messages had a call to action attached, those who used “Like” or “Comment” showed a huge boost in interaction rates.
  5. Should I ask my fans questions? You’d think that by asking questions you’d get a better interaction rate, but such is not the case. However, Facebook page admins looking to achieve the highest comment rate should pose questions and then directly ask for fans to reply with comments.
  6. How long should my status messages be? According to this study, size does matter. While there’s a higher posting rate for shorter posts (especially those that stay within the 140-character limit for cross-posting purposes on both Twitter and Facebook), interaction increases as the length of the status message increases.
  7. How long do my messages remain in the Newsfeed? In the first hour of a Facebook status update, half of the users who will click on the post will have done so, with 90 percent of the clicks occurring within nine hours of the post going live.

Is Business Email Dead?

by Mikal E. Belicove

Is Business Email Dead?

Some social media consultants have begun eulogizing email. They suggest employers cast out what they see as a dying communications tool, and, instead, encourage employees to use whatever social media channel they feel most comfortable with for a given communication.

This assessment is premature. As an advocate of using social-media utilities and platforms for business-related purposes, I’m certainly not afraid of new communication platforms or devices. But endorsing tweets for example over email messages for group or one-to-one business correspondence is shortsighted. And if email is dead or dying, that certainly comes as news to me. Especially since I received word about this blog post through — you guessed it — email.

First, spouting absolutes like “email is dying” can be dangerous because it assumes that what’s good for one demographic must be good for all. Second, email — which can be used to recruit followers and fans and accomplish much more — isn’t anywhere near being broken or dead.

In a recent piece, Jacob Kramer-Duffield, a social-media consultant in Brooklyn, N.Y., recalls a November 2010 Pew Internet & American Life Project commentary by Amanda Lenhart that cites a previous Pew study showing that only 11 percent of teens in 2009 relied on email to communicate with their friends, thus labeling email as a “dying medium” among the young.

The latest Pew data on email usage suggests a different story, however. Released just last week, the new Pew survey affirms email remains tied with search as the most popular online activity, with more than 90 percent of Internet users saying they use email and more than 61 percent saying they do so on a daily basis.

The numbers are even higher for the youngest adults. The Pew study shows that 94 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 29 send or read email, with 64 percent doing so on a typical day.

So what does this mean for you?

Email remains one of the best ways to reach customers. It trumps social because it’s the best vehicle for delivering private, transactional messages, says Loren McDonald, vice president of industry relations at email-marketing firm Silverpop. “Email has an unmatched ability to leverage customer data to identify and engage brand advocates, encourage repeat purchases and increase margins,” McDonald says.

Just because some young people prefer to text and tweet rather than send emails doesn’t mean email is dying. And it certainly doesn’t mean we have to rethink communication platforms. The fact is, there’s simply less of a reason for younger people to have email addresses, so obviously they’re not going to be using email as much as adults do. Just give them time, though. Even the youth will come around.